It's been a week in which a certain, let us say, messiness of thought has crept in to various statements of those in High Places. Here are three examples:
Chris Sugden, in an article published on Anglican Mainstream, opined, "The Church of England articles focus on the basic unit of the church being the congregation of faithful people "in which the Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance". The life of faithful Anglican parishes ( in England, the USA, Canada) goes on apace." He is speaking of the Thirty Nine Articles, of course, and referencing Article XIX which begins "The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the …."
There is no talk in the Articles of congregations as "the basic unit," which would quite simply mean the LOCAL congregation and imply a form of congregationalism. The Article speaks of the singular – the visible Church of Christ is a congregation – meaning I suppose something similar to the old phrase, "the church militant." The notion is that there is one Church, not institutional but real none the less, consisting of all those faithful believers gathered for word and sacrament. Sugden's suggestion that the basic unit of the church being the congregation may or may not be true, but resort to the Articles of Religion will not help him.
Canon Sugden goes on to celebrate the new connections between the West and the South and there is indeed much to celebrate. For many Anglicans in North America the best result of the recent miserable struggle has been a renewed appreciation of the great gift of connection in communion.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, in his famous but somewhat unhelpful Advent Letter to the Primates said this: "And this is also why I have said that the refusal to meet can be a refusal of the cross – and so of the resurrection."
Now I want to say at the outset that the lead up to this sentence is quite important – that the Lambeth gathering is a place to meet, to share and to struggle with issues and concerns, not a place to meet only with others of the same mind. And I note the care with which the ABC used the word "can." Still, "the refusal to meet can be a refusal of the cross – and so of the resurrection," is a stretch.
The Cross and the Resurrection are not icons adaptable to circumstance willy-nilly. The struggles in the Anglican Communion are real, they can be costly and they can be an opportunity to live into new life, all of which can in some way mirror the Passion, Death and Resurrection. But the ABC has left out the middle passage – Death.
Certainly we know that the Cross is about death, but oddly the Cross is seen as about suffering, not about death, and the resurrection too easily becomes new life after suffering, not new life after death. It might have been helpful for the ABC to suggest that refusal to meet can be a refusal to face struggle and the end of one's comfortable faith, and perhaps the death of the faith formerly held, and thereby also there is the possibility of new life in a renewed faith. That seems closer to his observation that "We are being asked to see our handling of conflict and potential division as part of our maturing both as pastors and as disciples."
My objection here is about "cashing in" on the image of crucifixion and resurrection for less than the fullness of that, where it is not image or icon but the focal point of our faith. Bishop Duncan has made similar groans if anguish in the past, talking about "our Good Friday," and the suffering Network people must endure.
All of this is not to play down the realities of the cost of the current struggles, but it is to suggest they are not much compared to that found in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth in an interview with Greg Griffith at Stand Firm said, "Also, we must realize that the ground has shifted dramatically, as has the focus of what is to be discussed. A year ago, it was alternative primatial oversight. This was rejected. In March, it was the pastoral scheme from the Primates' Meeting in Dar es Salaam. This too was rejected. Now we are talking about the reality of dioceses separating from TEC and realigning with an orthodox Province. That being the framework for future discussions, I am willing to cooperate with the Archbishop of Canterbury's proposal in his Advent Letter for "professionally facilitated conversations" that will "clarify options" before us. However, we would only enter into such discussions as equal parties with the 815 authorities, not as suppliants petitioning for some form of relief. A negotiated settlement for separation seems to be the best way to proceed."
Bishop Iker, speaking either with the princely "we" or speaking more or less as a voice of those dioceses "realigning with an orthodox Province, says they will only enter conversations with "815 authorities" as equal parties. But while this is clearly what he wants, it is not a wish that comes from clarity of thought.
The conversation that needs to happen for a "negotiated settlement," is for Bishop Iker to say that he and some portion of the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Forth Worth intend to leave and form another diocese related to another Province, and that he and those clergy and laity believe that some portion of the patrimony of the diocese by rights ought to go with them. Interesting conversations could arise from such a position.
There has been considerable argument as to just what is happening when the majority of the members of a diocese decide to break with the Episcopal Church. Are they disaffiliating (meaning the corporate entity of the Diocese) or are they leaving (meaning as individuals and majorities of congregations, etc.)? The major legal struggle is in part precisely to determine if a Diocese has sufficient independent life from the Episcopal Church that its members could, much as a congregation, simply disaffiliate with this province (TEC) and align with a new province.
If Bishop Iker were willing to talk about the realities of leaving and wanting some portion of the patrimony to begin their new work, that would be one thing. But to insist on being equals assumes diocesan independence from the Episcopal Church straight off.
Bishop Iker thinks there is this independence, and so will not enter conversations with 815 authorities except as equals. I suspect the Presiding Bishop thinks no and so will enter conversations on all sorts of levels, but will insist that The Episcopal Church, who ordained, licensed and set in place the Bishop of Fort Worth, and whose General Convention accepted and later ratified the new Diocese of Fort Worth into union with the General Convention, holds authority to both depose Bishop Iker and retain a ministry in the area designated as that of the Diocese of Fort Worth for those continuing in The Episcopal Church.
My sense is the argument is not with "equal" corporate entities – the Diocese and The Episcopal Church. The argument is between members of Christ's church – Bishop Iker, a number of his clergy and lay persons in the Diocese, and the Presiding Bishop, in her office as the Chief Pastor and Primate of the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Iker has confused "types." People are one thing, corporations are another…they are of different class of entities. Unless Bishop Iker considers himself the embodiment of an independent corporate entity he is not going to get his "equal" status in conversations. I hope and pray that he, as any of us, is treated with the dignity due every person. He is right not to come as a supplicant, for he has no need to plea for the dignity of his position. He is free to come and go as he wishes and ought to do so with our prayers for his safety and that of those who follow him. But I believe there will not be conversations between him and "815 authorities" as equals either.
These are difficult times and it is hard to say what we mean to say. Still people touted as theologically and ecclesiastically astute can do better than this. The Articles of Religion deserve better reading; the Cross, Death and Resurrection used more reservedly in reference to regular paid up suffering; the we ought not make a confusion of types.